Kira Kazantsev: Questions over Miss America hazing allegations and scholarships

Kira Kazantsev: After the crowning of Miss America 2015, debate lingers about the contest winner Kira Kazantsev and the organization, which prides itself on being a major scholarship provider. 

Mel Evans/AP
In this Sept. 14, 2014 file photo, Kira Kazantsev walks the runway after she was named Miss America 2015 in Atlantic City, N.J. Kazantsev said Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 that she was removed from her college sorority over a letter that made light of hazing, but she denies a report that she was involved in aggressively hazing fellow students.

One week after her crowning on Sept. 14, Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev is under fire for her history as a leader of hazing at Hofstra University in New York. At the same time, the Miss America Organization had its self-styled identity as major scholarship provider for women satirically dethroned by “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver. 

Perhaps the problem with trying to embody perfection and calling yourself “the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women,” as the pageant does, is that you end up with a lot of scholars looking past the glossy images to scrutinize what is – and isn’t – entirely true.

“Take a look at her now. Role model and beauty queen. Trendsetter and leader. Timeless icon and fresh new face. Inspiration for a new generation,” is the what the Miss America organization web site has posted on its main page beside a photo of Ms. Kazantsev being crowned.

Considering the relatively short time between the end of the pageant and allegations about its winner and scholarship claims, maybe its better for the pageant organizers and fans to step back and reframe the contest once again as simply a beauty and talent pageant.

Not to minimize the hard work by those who compete, but by definition, a pageant, according to the Merriam-Webter Dicitonary is “a mere show: pretense… an ostentatious display.”

It seems that in order to please perennial pageant critics and be all things to all people, both the pageants and the contestants might be trying too hard - and the results are not pretty.

Case in point, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, and other media noted that neither Hofstra, nor Kazantsev’s former sorority Alpha Phi celebrated their student’s achievement in winning the nation’s most prestigious beauty pageant.

Apparently that raised some red flags, which led to a story about the new beauty monarch having been disciplined by Hofstra and ejected from the sorority last year.

“In late April 2013, Jezebel has learned, Kazantsev and a friend were both kicked out of the Alpha Phi sorority at Hofstra University on Long Island after hazing pledges. At the time, Kazantsev was serving as the sorority's head of recruitment,” according to Jezebel.

According to an interview with Kazantsez on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, she says she was dismissed from the sorority for penning a letter that made light of hazing, but she did not participate in the aggressive hazing the media reports suggest.  

On Monday, Mr. Oliver, host of the Comedy Central show “Last Week Tonight” aired a segment that looked at the organization’s claims that it serves as a boon to female scholars and found quite a bit of flawed logic in its messaging.

While Oliver’s show falls in line with news satire, the segment highlighted multiple video clips of media reports using messaging that refers to Miss America as a major source of scholarships.

”In fact Miss America trades on their scholarship claims so much that if you call the Miss America headquarters this is what you hear, ‘Thank you for calling the Miss America Organization the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women,’” Oliver reported Monday, playing an audio clip of the organization’s telephone greeting.

The key words used by Miss America Foundation on its web site and on the Miss America pageant web site regarding scholarships for women are “offers” and “makes available.”

According to Oliver, while the Miss America Foundation claims on its web site that it “makes $40 million in scholarships available annually,” the fact is that less than $500,000 in scholarships are actually paid-out to contestants.

Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” did a breakdown of the $40 million – using tax forms from Miss America and its feeder pageants in 33 states – and found the claim was based on all the theoretical scholarships available to all contestants in state pageants which feed up to the Miss America event.

In some cases, while only one contestant ended up winning a scholarship, pageants multiplied the number of contestants in the pageant by the amount of the one scholarship that would be won to arrive at the scholarship “offering” amount, according to Oliver.

Also, these pageants don’t offer scholarships to all women, only to those who compete in its pageants and who can fit the physical standards of beauty, talent, and never having been pregnant or married.

Perhaps, in light of this discovery and the ensuing drama around the event, we can instead highlight some other scholarship opportunities for women that will involve an interview, but not a fancy evening gown.

Funds such as the American Association of University Women or Society for Women Engineers may be better choices for donors – and women scholars.

There’s no need to bash those who wish to celebrate the hard work and talent involved in Miss America and other pageants. But it’s important for female fans of these pageants – especially young girls – to understand that there are many routes to college that don’t require a swimsuit competition.

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